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Spatial Release From Masking in Children: Effects of Simulated Unilateral Hearing Loss

Corbin, Nicole E.; Buss, Emily; Leibold, Lori J.

doi: 10.1097/AUD.0000000000000376
Research Articles

Objectives: The purpose of this study was twofold: (1) to determine the effect of an acute simulated unilateral hearing loss on children’s spatial release from masking in two-talker speech and speech-shaped noise, and (2) to develop a procedure to be used in future studies that will assess spatial release from masking in children who have permanent unilateral hearing loss. There were three main predictions. First, spatial release from masking was expected to be larger in two-talker speech than in speech-shaped noise. Second, simulated unilateral hearing loss was expected to worsen performance in all listening conditions, but particularly in the spatially separated two-talker speech masker. Third, spatial release from masking was expected to be smaller for children than for adults in the two-talker masker.

Design: Participants were 12 children (8.7 to 10.9 years) and 11 adults (18.5 to 30.4 years) with normal bilateral hearing. Thresholds for 50%-correct recognition of Bamford–Kowal–Bench sentences were measured adaptively in continuous two-talker speech or speech-shaped noise. Target sentences were always presented from a loudspeaker at 0° azimuth. The masker stimulus was either co-located with the target or spatially separated to +90° or −90° azimuth. Spatial release from masking was quantified as the difference between thresholds obtained when the target and masker were co-located and thresholds obtained when the masker was presented from +90° or −90° azimuth. Testing was completed both with and without a moderate simulated unilateral hearing loss, created with a foam earplug and supra-aural earmuff. A repeated-measures design was used to compare performance between children and adults, and performance in the no-plug and simulated-unilateral-hearing-loss conditions.

Results: All listeners benefited from spatial separation of target and masker stimuli on the azimuth plane in the no-plug listening conditions; this benefit was larger in two-talker speech than in speech-shaped noise. In the simulated-unilateral-hearing-loss conditions, a positive spatial release from masking was observed only when the masker was presented ipsilateral to the simulated unilateral hearing loss. In the speech-shaped noise masker, spatial release from masking in the no-plug condition was similar to that obtained when the masker was presented ipsilateral to the simulated unilateral hearing loss. In contrast, in the two-talker speech masker, spatial release from masking in the no-plug condition was much larger than that obtained when the masker was presented ipsilateral to the simulated unilateral hearing loss. When either masker was presented contralateral to the simulated unilateral hearing loss, spatial release from masking was negative. This pattern of results was observed for both children and adults, although children performed more poorly overall.

Conclusions: Children and adults with normal bilateral hearing experience greater spatial release from masking for a two-talker speech than a speech-shaped noise masker. Testing in a two-talker speech masker revealed listening difficulties in the presence of disrupted binaural input that were not observed in a speech-shaped noise masker. This procedure offers promise for the assessment of spatial release from masking in children with permanent unilateral hearing loss.

1Division of Speech and Hearing Sciences, Department of Allied Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; 2Department of Otolaryngology/Head and Neck Surgery, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and 3Boys Town National Research Hospital, Omaha, Nebraska, USA.

This study was supported by the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD, R01 DC011038; NIDCD, R01 DC000397).

Portions of this article were presented at the 43rd Annual Scientific and Technology Meeting of the American Auditory Society, Scottsdale, AZ, March 2016, and at the Auditory Development: From Cochlea to Cognition conference, Seattle, WA, August 2015.

The authors have no conflicts of interest to disclose.

Received March 16, 2016; accepted August 21, 2016.

Address for correspondence: Nicole E. Corbin, Department of Allied Health Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Medicine, 3122 Bondurant Hall, CB #7190, Chapel Hill, NC 27599, USA. E-mail: nicole_corbin@med.unc.edu

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